FIFA 13 review
PES might be back but FIFA’s not gonna give up the title without a fight…
Critiquing an annual sports update is a very different process to a typical videogame review. Some standard criticisms are almost invalid – lack of originality, too similar to the predecessor – because these games are a fundamentally iterative process, and the millions and millions of loyal and paying fans know this. Which is a roundabout way of saying that FIFA 13 is incredibly similar to FIFA 12. However, it’s also considerably, markedly better.
Every year the previous FIFA poses a number of questions that need to be answered. For FIFA 12, it was ‘why is tactical defending so unhelpful?’ and ‘why does every match feel the same?’. As EA Canada has consistently proven, it’s always listening and always striving to improve. So, the main focus of FIFA 13? Improving defending, and making the action on the pitch feel more organic, unpredictable and therefore more believable.
Within two matches, the differences are noticeable. FIFA 12 was defined by defenders missing tackles then being stuck in an animation while opposition attackers danced between them. FIFA 13, though, is far more subtle and nuanced in its defending. Now defenders react contextually, so they might stick a leg out and nick the ball away, they might tug at a shirt, they might put an arm across their opponent’s chest… It all makes much more sense and is easier to execute. Of course, mistiming a challenge is still likely to leave you stranded, or chopping your foe down to the ground, but now Tactical Defending feels like the system it was always destined to be. Sometimes these things just need an extra year to work out the kinks.
It’s the small changes that have the biggest impact, often. These minor alterations in how Tactical Defending works changes the entire flow of a match. It’s much harder to plough through the middle of a confused and positionally aberrant defence, so FIFA 13 plays a meaner passing game than before. To match this new need for rapid ball movement, passes along the ground are quicker, and the entire tempo of play is upped.
Every change needs a counterbalance, though, and as such FIFA 13’s first touches are now imperfect. Where once you’d see players dragging the ball out of the sky like Berbatov or bring a 100mph shot under control with no difficulties whatsoever, you need to take position, angle and speed into account when taking the ball in. If you’re trying to control it over your own shoulder while looking the wrong way, there’s a very good chance the ball will scuff off your boot and fly off in the wrong direction. React to that, and you’ll be fine. Assume otherwise and start planning your counterattack before you have the ball under control, and you could be left looking the fool.
These small but significant changes help turn FIFA 13 into a more organic and unpredictable experience – perfection in imperfection. A huge part of the thrall and gravitational pull of football is the simple fact that anything can happen within its defined boundaries, and FIFA 12 never felt like that. Goals always felt and looked the same, play through the middle never changed – for all its good looks and better physics, it felt stale. FIFA 13 is far more vibrant and thrilling.
Even with these improvements, though, there are still problems. Despite the promise of ‘total dribbling control’, it’s still very difficult to actually beat your opponent one-on-one, especially against the CPU on a high difficulty setting. In order to get your players reacting quickly to your stick movements, you often need to be toying with three separate shoulder buttons as well as the left stick, and sometimes the right stick too. It’s needlessly complicated.
And while the action on the pitch is more unpredictable and emergent, FIFA 13 still struggles with individualising the great players. Yes, Ronaldo and Messi are noticeably different from their less able counterparts, but there’s no real tangible variation between an Iniesta or a Fletcher, say, or Van Persie and Rooney. Their stats might be different, but ultimately most good players feel the same – all are good passers, all can tackle, all can finish. It doesn’t help that it’s very difficult to tell players apart from distance. Pro Evolution Soccer has always done staggering work in making star players look, move and play like their real-world counterparts, and this is one area where FIFA still trails behind.
Thankfully, it doesn’t stop FIFA 13 from playing a cracking game of football, and one with so many off-pitch options that it’s almost overwhelming. Joining the usual career, cup modes and exhibition matches are an improved Be A Pro where you play as one player for a whole career, a healthy online suite – FIFA has been a reliable online game for years, so expect more of the same – and an overhauled arena, which incorporates excellent new skill games into the loading screens. They’re not only a fun distraction, but also a crucial tutorial in how to get the best out of FIFA 13. There are no more excuses – you have the tools at your fingertips. If you lose, it’s your fault.
So, FIFA 13 is yet another improvement on one of the world’s bestselling games, and all set to do phenomenal business for EA. There’s work to be done, unquestionably, but for the first time, FIFA feels like it’s starting to capture the essence of football along with the mechanics. The millions and millions won’t be disappointed.